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Shadow Hearts (シャドウハーツ Shadōhātsu ) is a series of role playing games for the PlayStation 2. The original Shadow Hearts was developed by Sacnoth and released by Midway in the United States on December 11, 2001. The sequel, Shadow Hearts: Covenant (or Shadow Hearts II), was also made by the same group, although Sacnoth reformed itself into a company called Nautilus for the project. It was released in October 2004 in the United States. A further sequel, Shadow Hearts: From the New World, was released in Japan on July 28, 2005, and in the United States on March 7, 2006. The Shadow Hearts series is known for its Lovecraftian horror and juxtaposition of historical facts and details with fantastic, often anachronistic characters and events, otherwise known as a "secret history" or alternate history. While not amazing sellers, the Shadow Hearts games have developed a reputation as "cult" games that have done very well in their niche.
Common gameplay elements
All three Shadow Hearts games are turn-based RPGs. There are two unique elements to the Shadow Hearts games.
- Judgment Ring
- For nearly every combat action and for some mini-games, the player is presented with a "Judgment Ring". This is shown as a circular field that has a radar-like line that sweeps through the circle a single time. There are several colored areas on this field. To successfully complete an action, the player must hit a button as the line passes through the area. For direct attacks, there are one or more of these areas, and as long as each area is hit properly, the player can attempt to make multiple attacks within the same turn. For most offensive and some defense spells, there are areas that must be hit before a last larger area to successfully complete the spell. Most other actions have just one single area to be hit. For attacks, offensive and healing spells, there is also a narrow red area at the end of some sections; if this area is hit, then the attack or spell or item benefit is slightly increased; however, it is possible to miss these areas easily and fail the movement.
- There are generally a number of ways the ring can be altered willing and unwilling in the games. Special items or persons can widen the size of the marked areas to decrease the chance of missing the mark, or even add a new zone for an additional attack. Equipable items may alter how the Ring behaves, trading off with another statistic; for example, one may be able to increase a character's speed in battle (attacking more often) at the cost of having the Ring sweep faster. Monsters may inflict Ring status changes, such as increasing the sweep speed or reducing the visible size of the ring, which can be cured through spells, items, or restored after battle is completed.
- Some gamers complained about the Judgment Ring after the first game, claiming it made the game too hard. To appease them, the second and third games have the option to turn the ring off completely. As a trade-off, doing this prevents the player from performing critical hits, strikes, and other special effects, essentially creating a large handicap in exchange for the reduced difficulty.
- Sanity Points
- In addition to the usual Hit Points and Mana Points for each character, there are also Sanity Points (SP), which decrease every turn the character is in battle (as a representation of the character's exposure to the horrific and maddening creatures) or can also be drained by enemies. When a character reaches zero Sanity Points, that character becomes "Berserk"; the character will perform random actions on random battle participants (including the player's party) with increased bonuses until either some Sanity Points are restored, or the battle ends, if the latter occurs, all players, regardless of the Berserk condition, will completely recover his/her Sanity Points. As with Hit Points and Mana Points, there are ways to restore Sanity Points in battle.
One more constant game element is the presence of the Valentine Family
- Valentine Family
- In every game there has been at least one member of the Valentine family present and is always a playable character. The Valentines are a family of vampires, their appearance strays from the typical Dracula traits of being dark haired and pale-skinned, instead they are blond, blue eyed, and fair-skinned with no problem being in the sun (or any of the typical vampiric weaknesses) and they don't have the need to drink blood.
List of the games in the series
The PlayStation game Koudelka, Sacnoth's first effort, is technically a predecessor to Shadow Hearts, although the connection to it is not as strong as the connection between the other games. Some of the events that happen in Koudelka are mentioned in Shadow Hearts, and some elements (including characters) from Koudelka also come back in Shadow Hearts.
Shadow Hearts takes place fifteen years after Koudelka, 1913, in the same universe. On a branch of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Manchuria, the game's protagonist, Yuri Volte Hyuga (Urmnaf "Uru" Bort Hyuga in the Japanese version), hears a voice in his head telling him to rescue the young Alice Elliot, whose priest father was recently murdered in a most brutal fashion in Rouen, France. After an English gentleman by the name of philosopher Roger Bacon attempts to abduct Alice from the Japanese army himself, Yuri saves her, and starts a quest through China (and eventually Europe) to discover Alice's importance, Bacon's intent, the identity of the mysterious voice, and his own relevance.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Shadow Hearts: Covenant (also called Shadow Hearts II) directly continues from the story at the end of Shadow Hearts, assuming the "bad ending" was correct. This game features 2 DVD ROM discs instead of the usual 1, which provides (according to the publisher) 40 hours of gameplay.
The town of Domremy has stubbornly refused to fall to the German advance at the beginning of World War I thanks to the aid of a "demon" which seems to defend it. Lieutenant Karin Koenig of the German army is sent along with a person who claims to be an Inquisitor from the Vatican, Nicolai Conrad, to acquire a means of exorcising this demon. However, the 'Demon of Domremy' is actually the Harmonixer Yuri from the first Shadow Hearts. Yuri, Karin, and Nicolai soon become entangled in a plot involving secret conspiracies, the Russian royal family, the Japanese foreign minister, the mystical tome from Koudelka, and more.
The game as a whole was revamped from Shadow Hearts, including the graphics, cutscenes, voices, the way the Judgment Ring worked, and the cast of characters, with several from the original game recurring in cameo roles. Game critics have also smiled upon Shadow Hearts: Covenant much more than the original, and a general consensus seems to be that the game is an overall improvement on the first.
Shadow Hearts: From The New World
The latest installment in the series, Shadow Hearts: From The New World, was announced in March 2005. XSEED Games, a company made up of former Square Enix USA employees, brought Shadow Hearts: From the New World to North America.
The title begins in North America in the year 1929 and features two new main characters: a 16 year old New Yorker named Johnny Garland, and a 21 year old Native American woman named Shania. Shania has powers of fusion similar to Yuri and Kurando in the previous Shadow Hearts entries, but Shania is not a Harmonixer. Instead, she makes pacts with spirits, in direct contrast to Yuri and Kurando who turned into demons. The story begins with Johnny, a private detective, being hired by a man named Gilbert to find one Marlow Brown. When Johnny finds the man, however, a mysterious 'window' opens, and from it emerges a Lovecraftian monster. The rest of the game follows Johnny, Shania, and company as they attempt to uncover the truth about Gilbert and his plans.
While some may argue that From The New World is closer to a spin-off than to a sequel, it is important to note that the game has several links with the previous game. Beside a few returning characters (Roger Bacon, Lenny Curtis, Joachim Valentine, Keith Valentine (as the Silver Bat), Hildegarde Valentine (as the Peach Bat in Shadow Hearts Covenant, here as a playable character in Johnny's party) and Gerard (the shopkeeper) as well as items (Émigré Manuscript), important events that took place in Shadow Hearts 2 are mentioned, such as Nicolai (Nicholas) Conrad's release of Malice.
- Official Shadow Hearts site
- Official Shadow Hearts: Covenant site
- Official Shadow Hearts: From the New World site
- Icaro: The Mythology of Shadow Hearts
- 'Shadow Hearts series at MobyGames
- The Judgement Ring - A Shadow Hearts resource
- Shadow Hearts Wiki - A wiki about Shadow Hearts